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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Factors related to treatment intensity in Swiss primary care

André Busato1*, Pius Matter2 and Beat Künzi3

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Evaluative Research in Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Bern, Stauffacherstrasse 78, CH-3014, Bern, Switzerland

2 University of Bern, Department of Economics, Schanzeneckstrasse 1, CH-3001 Bern, Switzerland

3 Swisspep – Institute for Quality and Research in Healthcare, Postfach – CH 3073 Guemligen, Switzerland

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BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:49  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-49

Published: 18 March 2009



Questions about the existence of supplier-induced demand emerge repeatedly in discussions about governing Swiss health care. This study therefore aimed to evaluate the interrelationship between structural factors of supply and the volume of services that are provided by primary care physicians in Switzerland.


The study was designed as a cross-sectional investigation, based on the complete claims data from all Swiss health care insurers for the year 2004, which covered information from 6087 primary care physicians and 4.7 million patients. Utilization-based health service areas were constructed and used as spatial units to analyze effects of density of supply. Hierarchical linear models were applied to analyze the data.


The data showed that, within a service area, a higher density of primary care physicians was associated with higher mortality rates and specialist density but not with treatment intensity in primary care. Higher specialist density was weakly associated with higher mortality rates and with higher treatment intensity density of primary care physicians. Annual physician-level data indicate a disproportionate increase of supplied services irrespective of the size of the number of patients treated during the same year and, even in high volume practices, no rationing but a paradoxical inducement of consultations occurred. The results provide empirical evidence that higher densities of primary care physicians, specialists and the availability of out-patient hospital clinics in a given area are associated with higher volume of supplied services per patient in primary care practices.

Analyses stratified by language regions showed differences that emphasize the effect of the cantonal based (fragmented) governance of Swiss health care.


The study shows high volumes in Swiss primary care and provides evidence that the volume of supply is not driven by medical needs alone. Effects related to the competition for patients between primary care physicians, specialists and out-patient hospital clinics and an association with the system of reimbursing services on a fee-for-service basis can not be excluded.